Second face third in Conference A of the PRO14 tomorrow as Munster travel to the Sportsground to take on Connacht.
Both teams have a win and a loss in inter-provincial ties over the festive period with Munster defeating Leinster last weekend while Connacht defeated Ulster last time out.
📣 TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT 📣January 4, 2019
There are some key absentees from head coach Andy Friend’s selection for this final interprovincial fixture of the festive season with captain Jarrad Butler and Ireland centre Bundee Aki both failing to shake off knocks sustained in last weekend’s home victory over Ulster.
Their injuries contribute to the six changes made by Friend from the December 28 win over the northern province ahead of the visit of Guinness PRO14 Conference A rivals Munster.
Butler is replaced at No.8 by Eoghan Masterson in a back row that also sees highly-regarded youngster Paul Boyle promoted from the bench to blindside flanker a week ahead of his 22nd birthday as a replacement for Sean O’Brien, who completed 80 minutes of the 21-12 victory against Ulster on his comeback from injury.
The captaincy shifts from Butler to hooker Dave Heffernan, who replaces Shane Delahunt in a front row that also has Dominic Robertson McCoy in at tighthead prop for Conor Carey. On the other corner, Denis Buckley retains the loosehead jersey to earn his 150th cap for Connacht.
The backline changes are in the midfield and back three with Aki replaced at inside centre by Tom Daly, set for his Connacht debut after joining the province on loan from Leinster last month, while on the left wing there is a return from injury for the westerner’s record try scorer Matt Healy at the expense of Kyle Godwin while Darragh Leader remains at full-back in the continued absence of Tiernan O’Halloran with on-loan Stephen Fitzgerald ineligible to face his parent club.
A FAINGA’A IN EVERY PIE
Australian back row Colby Fainga’a questioned whether he deserved the man of the match award in Connacht’s 21-12 victory over Ulster at the Sportsground last weekend but the statistics underline an impressive all-around contribution to the cause.
Fainga’a beat eight Ulster defenders in Galway, the most of any player in the PRO14 in Round 12, while his three offloads tied the highest amount in that category across the league last weekend. Some effort for 15 carries, which also produced two clean breaks and 64 metres made. Munster could have their hands full with the dynamic openside flanker.
Head coach Johann van Graan makes seven changes and two positional switches to the Munster side that overcame PRO14 champions Leinster 26-17 at Thomond Park last Saturday.
Peter O’Mahony returns from an IRFU player welfare rest to captain the side in an all-new back row from the trio which faced Leo Cullen’s side seven days previously. O’Mahony comes in for Fineen Wycherley at blindside while, Tommy O’Donnell returns at openside with Chris Cloete ruled out after requiring further assessment on a neck injury he sustained against Leinster. Arno Botha completes the trio at No.8, moving from the bench as last week’s captain CJ Stander moves the other way.
There is one further change in the forwards with Jeremy Loughman coming in at loosehead prop as Dave Kilcoyne moves to the replacements.
All Black Alby Mathewson goes the other way to start at scrum-half with Conor Murray taking his place on the bench while there is a welcome return at outside centre for Chris Farrell, who will reboot his return from long-term injury after a short-term setback when he damaged a thigh muscle in the warm-up of the home European game against Castres on December 9.
Farrell’s reintroduction coincides with a rest for inside centre Rory Scannell and sees Dan Goggin move from 13 to 12 as a result.
There are also changes in the back three where Mike Haley is replaced at full-back by Andrew Conway, with Keith Earls switching from left to right wing to fill the breach and Alex Wootton the new man in on the left wing to fill the vacancy.
It has been a long, hard road to get to this point but should Billy Holland come off the replacements bench in Galway tonight, the second row will be making a landmark 200th Munster appearance. Considering the talent that stood in his way for so long, it is a testament to Holland’s resilience to have reached such a milestone at the age of 33 and the Corkman will become just the 10th Munster player to play 200 games for the province.